Shaving cream is one of those necessary products that go alongside any sort of razor of your choice. But, whether you choose to use a disposable, cartridge, electric, straight edge, or even the best double edge safety razor – men (and women) always have asked themselves time and time again, ‘What does shaving cream do when applied to your skin?!’

I have to be honest for a minute here:

When I first started shaving in my teens, I used to use the gels marketed heavily with the cartridge razor. But, as it was often exclaimed, shaving cream would provide a way more comfortable shave and bring out the best qualities in the razor blade.

While a little older and a little wiser, when you cut through the marketing fluff, you can pick up some pretty great shaving creams on the market that will likely hands down crush their gel counterparts.

But before clicking that buy button – we will answer that nagging question on so many peoples mind and break down what a shaving cream does when it is applied to your skin:

First and Foremost Shaving Cream Keeps Your Hair Moistened

shaving cream provides moisture

So when it comes to shaving cream in general, one of the most important properties is retaining the heat and moisture upon your skin.  That means a shaving cream is classified as being an emollient.

While we go in great depths in this article on how to get a close shave, here are a few of the key takeaways:

It may be second nature to some; before the blade ever touches your skin, you need to take a shower.

Showering helps to swell up your hair follicles and open your pores to ensure less tugging and pulling when the blade comes in contact with your facial hair.

When you are out of the shower and dried off, shaving cream will help ensure that the heat and moisture are retained in the skin with its rich lather.

Therefore your follicles will remain swollen (or swell more) from when you were in the shower, along with allowing your pores to stay open as well.

Shaving Cream Provides Lubrication To Your Skin

lubricates your skin

While we are firm believers in the effectiveness of pre-shave oil, one of the critical benefactors that a shaving cream has when applied to your skin will be to provide ample amounts of lubrication.

This lubricating property is what sets budget shaving creams apart from the higher-quality ones on the market.

The lubrication in any quality shaving cream will allow the blade to glide effortlessly across your skin.

When your hair follicles are swollen and soft, the lubrication allows the blade to get a clean cut on your whisker.

The lubrication will also protect your skin in a way that prevents the blade from skipping or chopping across your skin.

Should the blade ever skip, it will cause micro-abrasions on your skin which will cause general skin irritation.

A pre-shave oil combined with a quality shaving cream is an extra layer of lubrication between your skin and the shaving cream.  It’s a product worth checking out.

Application Of Shaving Cream Can Make A Difference

shaving brushes make a difference

Let’s face it; men love to get their hands dirty.

However, when it comes to applying shave cream, it’s better if you don’t use your hands.

Instead, what traditional wet shavers prefer is the use of a shaving brush.

Brushes, typically made of badger hair, are great at whipping up a rich lather and will help bring out more of the critical properties found in the high-quality shaving creams.

Shave brushes help make your whiskers stand on the edge and make it much easier for the blade to get a clean cut.

Whereas if you use your hands, the hair follicles will get matted down and require additional passes of the blade, and even worse, more pressure from the blade to effectively cut the hair.

You can check out some of our preferred shave brushes in this post.

What About The Razor Blade Quality?

razor blade quality

The quality of the blade has an impact on the comfort and effectiveness of your shave.

Whether you are using a top of the line cartridge razor or disposable razor where the blades are pre-set to the optimal cutting angle (30 degrees) or a double edge razor that you have to manually hone in on the correct cutting angle at every contour of your face, a sharp razor is necessary to get a close shave.

All the lubricating and moisturizing properties won’t mean much unless your shaving tool is used to its fullest potential and, of course, properly.

Generally speaking, when it comes to double edge safety razors, you should be sure to swap out the blade weekly or after five shaves.

Suppose you are new to the whole traditional wet shaving world or are even an expert, its always good to test out different blades to see which one provides the most comfort. So we would recommend a variety pack for those looking to test.

For the cartridge razors, see your manufacturer’s website for additional info, as the cartridge lifespan can vary from one brand to another.

Lastly, if you are using an electric foil or rotary-based razor, be sure also to swap out your heads regularly.

shaving soap vs shaving cream

One of the things with shaving creams is that they are versatile and can be used by beginners and experts alike.

However, the men who want to revisit the traditional wet shaving days may also want to use shaving soap.

Shaving soaps are very similar to shaving creams. However, they allow a lot more control when it comes to whipping up a lather.

This is, of course, for better or worse.

A beginner may falter and make their lather dry or wet.  However, if you follow this guide, you should generate a perfect lather time and time again.

Where shaving soaps shine is that when the lather is made perfectly, you can get much richer and slicker lubrication when compared to shaving cream.  This is why shaving soaps are preferred by men who want complete control over their shaving routine.

It, of course, helps too that shaving soaps tend to run a bit cheaper than their shave cream counterparts.  But still, all holds, as we mentioned above, for shaving soaps – quality ones are terrific at retaining heat and moisture to allow for a better shave when compared to their low-quality counterparts.

You can check out a full review of the best shaving soaps in this recent buyer’s guide.

With a shaving soap, be sure to pick up a shave brush, as they are required to use the product.

Where To Find Some Great Shaving Creams To Increase The Comfort of Your Shave

As we mentioned above, quality shaving creams are incredibly hard to find, especially when the big brands crowd the shelf space at your local retailer.

On rare occasions, you may find a shaving store, especially if you live in a larger metropolis area such as NYC, LA, etc.

However, most men prefer to simply order it online and have it show up at their door in only a couple of days.

Shawn Burns

Shawn Burns is the founder and senior editor of Tools of Men. He started this site with the goal of teaching men proper grooming habits and sensible style. Shawn's expertise includes in-depth product reviews and how-to articles. Shawn was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal for his expertise.

Published: October 4, 2016

Last Updated: August 13, 2021